To start this post, let us first explain how we ended up on the nonsensical route that we did.
Our original “plan” while traveling Southeast Asia was to start out in Vietnam, then go to Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. We started out in Vientiane Laos then headed north, with the intention of taking the two-day slow boat from Luang Prabang over to Thailand. We would travel south through Thailand and then on to Cambodia before going back to Thailand where we have a potential gig lined up.
When doing some research on visas and the logistics of all this, we considered that perhaps it would be wiser to go to Cambodia before going to Thailand so that we wouldn’t have to worry about multiple Thai visas (since we would be leaving and then coming back.) The unfortunate part of this plan was that we hadn’t considered it until we were already in Northern Laos. This new plan would require backtracking down to Vientiane, and then traveling even further down to Pakse and the 4,000 Islands before crossing into Cambodia.
Here is what actually happened:
We started out with an uneventful, four hour bus ride from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang. Once we arrived at the Luang Prabang bus stop, we intended to book a sleeper bus for that night down to Vientiane–only it was full, so we couldn’t.
At that point our choices were to stay the night in Luang Prabang and take a bus in the morning that would take all day and put us in Vientiane the following night, or to take a sleeper bus the following night. 12 hours sitting on a bus all day sounded horrid so we opted to hang out in Luang Prabang and take the sleeper bus the following night.
While we enjoyed relaxing in Luang Prabang one last time, we probably should have just taken the day bus, because then we could have gotten an actual night’s rest at a guesthouse in Vientiane. Instead, we spent 12 agonizing hours in a Laos sleeper bus (why didn’t we learn the first time?) crunched up on the ground while the bus violently bounced and swayed all the way to Vientiane.
We arrived in Vientiane at about 7am with another set of choices. Do we take another 12 hour day bus straight away and head down to Pakse or wait and do another night bus? With the horrors of the sleeper bus we had just exited fresh in our minds, we couldn’t bear the idea of doing it again two nights in a row. Instead, we hopped on a bus two hours later, and headed down to Pakse.
We were assured that the bus to Pakse would be 12 hours, putting us in the city around 10pm which should have been a decent enough time to find a room for the night. Only, the bus stopped half a hundred times on the way to Pakse for god knows what reasons, extending the journey to about 15 hours.
Do you know how many guesthouses are open at 1am in Pakse? None. There are none.
There was only one other backpacker on the bus with us who was also stuck in this situation and the three of us set out to find some kind of accommodation for the night. Exhausted from no sleep and almost 30 hours on buses, we wandered the deserted streets of Pakse knocking on guesthouse windows, in hopes of waking up the employees and inquiring about rooms. If that wasn’t bad enough, the people we were able to startle awake all told us that they were full.
An hour later, we found ourselves sitting on a bench by the road, all but given up. “There is one more on my map, I’m going to go check it,” said our new Spanish friend. Sure that his efforts would fail, as they had for the last hour, we sat on the bench consumed with exhaustion, frustration, and helplessness.
Just as we were adjusting ourselves in preparation to sleep on this bench, the Spanish guy reappeared, waving.
“Come on, guys!”
We sprang up and he waved for us to follow him to this one last guesthouse he had found! It was a little pricier than we would have liked, but being 2am and after what we had been through, we were grateful for anything.
We woke up the next morning and decided we simply did not have the energy to get to Don Det that day.
Instead, we spent the day exploring Pakse, which is perhaps the most boring city on the planet earth. Despite being the third largest Laotian city in population, there was hardly anyone around. Anywhere. The whole day.
There also isn’t really much to see or do in Pakse and it was Valentine’s Day, so we decided to celebrate by eating lots of delicious food that we normally wouldn’t splurge on. For lunch it was Dok Mai Lao Caffe, an Italian restaurant run by two older Italian men which was excellent. For dinner, it was Le Panorama on top of the Pakse Hotel where we could look out over the entire city and watch the sun set.
The next morning, it was finally time for us venture on to the last leg of the journey to the 4,000 Islands.
A mini-bus picked us up from our hotel at 8am and took us to the bus that would take us about 3 hours south of Pakse to Ban Nakasang, where we boarded a ferry that took us to the island of Don Det, our home base during our stay in the 4,000 Islands.
Perhaps it wasn’t the most logical route, but we finally made it to Don Det, and the hammocks awaiting us on the porch made our arrival that much sweeter!
Wednesday 2/11: Bus from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang (4-5 hrs)
Thursday 2/12: Sleeper Bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane (12 hrs)
Friday 2/13: Day bus from Vientiane to Pakse (15 hrs)
Saturday 2/14: Valentine’s Day in Pakse
Sunday 2/15: Bus/Ferry from Pakse to Don Det (3-4 hours)